The structure of the Garda Síochána comprises a central headquarters, national support units and geographical operational units organised into six regions, 25 divisions, 109 districts and 703 sub-districts. The strength of the Garda service on 31 December 2007 was 13,755 sworn members, inclusive of all ranks. The strength of the force as at 30 September 2008 was 14,284 sworn members, all ranks.
There were 2,635 civilians employed in various administrative, professional and technical posts as at 30 September 2008, compared to 1,979 civilians at the end of 2006. We have made significant progress to date in the recruitment of civilian staff at all levels and grades yielding new efficiencies and introducing new expertise throughout the Garda organisation. In that regard, we have recently employed an executive director of information technology and communications. We have also employed a number of analysts and a head of legal services, as well as a director of communications and a chief administrative officer, both of whom are here today.
In 2007, the overall budget for the Garda Vote was €1.437 billion, while the budget for 2008 is almost €1.578 billion, an increase of €141 million, or 9.8%, over the 2007 allocation. The Estimate provision for 2009 is €1.550 billion.
The most recent quarterly crime statistics showed that murders in 2008 were 25 down on last year, a decrease of 44%. Murders in 2007 had increased significantly over 2006 with 60 recorded in 2006 and 78 recorded for 2007. The figures also indicate at this point that earlier upward trends in offences such as theft and burglary are being reversed in the latter part of the year. This follows a number of targeted initiatives and operations in the course of the last six months.
It might be helpful to mention briefly some new initiatives and developments which have taken place in the interests of efficiency and accountability. The Garda Síochána has: introduced a performance and accountability framework; implemented a new management system for handling covert human intelligence sources, CHIS; established a crime training faculty; introduced extensive training programmes for senior investigating officers and crime scene investigators; appointed specially trained forensic collision investigators; appointed family liaison officers; introduced new, comprehensive treatment of persons in custody records and guidelines; expanded the mountain bike unit enabling us to introduce it into new areas right across the country; and, most importantly, has commenced work on re-energising our community policing model.
There are currently nine staff — four sworn and five civilian support staff — in the Garda internal audit section, which is headed by a professional accountant with extensive experience of internal audit within the public sector. I can provide the committee with a list of all audits undertaken by the Garda internal audit section for 2006, 2007 and to date in 2008, if it so wishes.
In accordance with section 44 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, a statutory audit committee was established in 2006 with functions as per the Act. In accordance with good governance, I have formally agreed a detailed audit charter with the committee.
As regards the Garda fleet, I now wish to address briefly the issue raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General on the deployment of Garda vehicles. As the committee may be aware, a Supplementary Estimate passed in 2006 provided an additional €17 million for the transport subhead of the Garda Vote with the objectives of first, substantially improving the age profile of the Garda fleet; second, increasing the size of the fleet; and third, facilitating the expansion of the traffic corps. Inevitably, given the fact that these funds were not confirmed until the second half of 2006, the number of vehicles purchased was skewed towards the last quarter of that year.
In purchasing vehicles, the Garda Síochána avails of centrally negotiated Government Supplies Agency contracts. As such, we are obliged to purchase vehicles at contracted prices and consequently additional price reductions or discounts were not sought at this time.
The Ford Motor Company is the principal supplier of Garda vehicles and it adopts a policy of quoting the lowest price possible under its pricing mechanism to ensure that it wins as much of the State vehicle supply business as possible. It is clear from this that if we had sought additional discounts to reflect the increased volume of purchases in 2006, those discounts would not have been forthcoming. The size of the Garda fleet increased from 2,189 vehicles at the end of 2006 to 2,679 vehicles at present. In addition the number of vehicles under two years old has risen from 1,009 to 1,666 vehicles at present with the average age of the Garda fleet now standing at 2.4 years.
On the future in this regard, and of course I accept the views and advice of the Comptroller and Auditor General on this matter, a fleet profile and optimisation study for the Garda fleet is under way. Its aim is to determine the safest, most reliable and fuel efficient vehicles for the fleet. The findings and recommendations of the study will be available in mid-December 2008 and will enhance the capacity of the Garda Síochána to deliver a professional fleet management service as well as aligning the Garda Síochána to best practice in police fleet management.
At the previous Commissioner's appearance before the committee in February 2007 the subject of the outsourcing of the maintenance of the Garda fleet was discussed. The evaluation of tender proposals for this contract is currently ongoing and is almost complete.
I will stop there, Chairman. I and my team are available to take whatever questions you and the committee wish to raise.